I have been swing dancing for ten years. Of those ten years, I have spent about seven of them consistently and consciously working to improve. And the truth is I suck. I do a lot of things well, but I’m still working on my spins and developing core strength. I’m just starting to fill the gap in my knowledge around aerials (thanks to the marvelous Joe and Tabitha). I’m still working on getting more comfortable with transitions in Charleston, expanding my repertoire of moves. And I find solo Charleston to be a black hole of rhythm and styling variations. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the depth of knowledge about blues dancing which has grown without me while I focused on other things. The truth is, I know a lot about dancing, but I know even more about how much I don’t know about dancing.
What I do know about dancing I owe to the generosity and graciousness of many dancers. I never really had money for lessons, so I learned on the social dance floor. I constantly asked questions, sought out feedback, and worked to better myself. Occasionally, I splurged on workshops where I’d get to pick the brains of some phenomenal dancers. But I’ve never forgotten how hard it is to suck; how difficult it is to rely on the generous spirits of others to fuel my passion. Sometimes when I’m out dancing, I see people who have forgotten this (or maybe they never knew it), and it makes me sad.
There’s a flip side where dancing is a social event. Great dancers have been dancing for a while, and want to spend time with their friends (also people who have been dancing for a while). So you see them sitting together in their corner of the dance hall, talking, laughing, dancing with each other. As a relatively inexperienced dancer, it can be intimidating to go up to them and ask them to dance, to break into that mystical circle of awesomeness. These great dancers don’t intend to be unapproachable or arrogant (most of the time). But I wonder if they have forgotten how hard it is to suck, how nice it is to feel validated and encouraged by good dancers, and how, no matter how good they are, there’s always something they can learn.
The crux of the matter is that, with very rare exception, great dancers are made from dedication, passion, and encouragement. If we want to spread the thing we love, we have to share it; not just with those who are already enamored with it, but with those who only have a budding curiosity. We have to give ourselves over to lighting the fire inside all those around us. And it is like a fire. Passion doesn’t get dimmer because we share it, even if it means we have a dance or two that totally sucks. Passion makes our world brighter, but we have to be active agents in spreading the flame.
So I always try to remember, I once sucked. And there are things at which I still suck. And that person who I had an awful dance with? That might just be the person who reminds me of the innocent wonder I once had for the dance, and reminds me what it means to be humble. Joy and passion are contagious, so let’s break out of our comfortable corners and cause an epidemic.